Pulp – We Love Life
With the release of 1998’s This Is Hardcore, Pulp hammered one of the final nails in Britpop’s coffin. With its sleazy sensuality and world-weary despair, Hardcore stood as a direct antithesis of the nationalism, optimism, and, in some cases, hedonism that often was associated with Cool Brittania-era bands. After the Britpop period, naturally, the public had moved on to the next big thing—in this case, The Strokes’ Is This It and post-OK Computer outfits like Coldplay. So, despite critical acclaim, We Love Life was often overlooked in the grand scheme of early 2000s British rock, and it’s really a shame too because the album more than stands up to Pulp’s best work. Enlisting Jarvis Cocker’s cult hero Scott Walker as producer, the band ditches the claustrophobia of Hardcore in favor of lush orchestration, almost as if We Love Life is the calm after the storm. This isn’t just unique compared to Hardcore but to nearly all of Pulp’s discography. Previously, the band was often dark and seductive, using glam, disco, and post-punk as its foundation. Here, they take a different approach, incorporating a more organic sound—strings, choirs, and acoustic guitars are likely to appear at any given time—and more spacious arrangements. This suggests the album may be lightweight since the group has always thrived in sensual, synth-based soundscapes. Instead, We Love Life finds Pulp integrating its strengths into a new musical context, such as in the stately string-laden pop of “The Trees,” the working class march of “Weeds,” and the cathartic roar that ends “Sunrise.” But the breakthroughs aren’t just musical. Jarvis Cocker’s razor-sharp wit and observational skill are just as integral to the success of the band’s music than ever before, but here he often cloaks his subjects in metaphor. Nothing he writes here is as dark as Hardcore, and even when he seems in anguish as on “I Love Life,” he always seems to find a way out of it, giving the entire record an optimistic tone that differs from much of Pulp’s output. But even though he is mining new lyrical territory, his gift for writing still manages to pull him through, especially on perhaps the album’s best moment, “Bad Cover Version.” Sometimes beautiful, sometimes abrasive, We Love Life is a mature and emotionally compelling work, one that deserves to be heard as often as the albums Pulp released in the heyday of Britpop.